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Lee Kuan Yew Interview Transcript


LH: What feelings were you going through as you watched events unfold September 11th?

LKY: Well, deep dismay because this means trouble and a shock to the financial markets. Next, are there any of our government investment cooperation people in there? I knew that my niece was working nearby with some bank, so my wife rang up the mother and the mother called back to say that shes just called up to say she was alright.

LH: Here in Singapore were you surprised to hear or to find out that there were groups of terrorists here at all?

LKY: Yes, we knew that sooner or later, with the build up in the Philippines, in Indonesia and after the KKM arrests in Malaysia that they were bound to penetrate us. In a way the U.S strikes in the World Trade center put the balloon out because Al Qaeda became news, and so a Singaporean told our security intelligence that a Pakistani Singaporean is connected with Al Qaeda. Had it not been in the news he wouldnt have said that to us, but because it was in the news he told us that. Surveillance followed him and his associates that was shortly after 11th September. On the 4th of October he flew off to Pakistan to go to Afghanistan so we knew that this was for real. We didnt stop him because we were in the midst of investigations. Then on the 29th of October, no November, an intelligence agency told us (a friendly intelligence) that the Northern Alliance had captured a Singaporean called Azlam, do we know him? Of-course we did, but we didnt reply because we knew once this leaks the others will scatter, so in the few days we moved quickly before the press got hold of it. The press did get hold of it a few days later, we nabbed, we were able to get 15, the others got away.

LH: Are you worried at all that they could be, new possibly worse terror attacks in the future?

LKY: Yes of-course. Because all they do, all they have done was to use some extremist, deviant Muslims groups working through as preacher, who led this group, a Singaporean, who was a condo manager to gather them together and convince them that this was an act in furtherance of goodness, of God, Jihad. But now of-course this has been discovered they know that well be very alert, to nitrates and trucks. So theyve got to start new groups and theyve got to find different ways, more complicated. So its a battle that goes on. But the critical thing is to clear the nests around us. The big nest was in Afghanistan, thats not quite cleared, then there are nests in the Philippines, there are nests in Indonesia, the Malaysians are clearing up their nests. The Philippines getting American help to clean up theirs. Now those nests are cleared then the experts cant come in so easily, they wont be there.

LH: What is the Singaporean government doing to protect Singaporeans?

LKY: Well if done a lot of hard work to try and get people to act rationally, the fact that weve had 15 deviant Muslims, plus 5 or 8 others that got away does not mean that all Muslims are deviant or extremists. But if something does go off, supposing that they had blown up the underground station at Nisoon where the American sailors used to have their bus stop to go back to the camp, and there had been a rush hour crowd of Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, and Malays and heavy casualties I think that would have been an enormous pianism of fear and rage, and people act irrationally in those circumstances. So to forestall that we are forming local confidence building communities, confidence circles. So we have the mosque leaders, the Malay leaders who are in charge of the welfare funds, each block of flats usually have a few Malay leaders who collect subscription for wigs for marriages and so on, so they are well integrated, so we are getting them to meet and get to know the Chinese, the Indians and the others who are in the community centers which they seldom use, so at least at grass roots leaders level if anything was to happen these leaders trust each other and would be able to calm people down and say lets not panic, lets not pack up our bags and move to a neighbors house.


LH: Welcome back. I want to share more of a very special interview with you. I bought your e-mail questions to Singapore when I spoke with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. One of the questions came from Edward in Singapore, he asks: What made you decide to get into politics?

LKY: I dont think I made a conscious decision as a career choice. From my school days I had decided, persuaded by my parents, to prepare myself for the law. Then the Japanese occupation came and we went through three and a half years of what I would call the university of life, it was hard, it was harsh. I learnt how people survived and how people had to submit because you need to eat and your family need to live, so I learned the meaning of power. In a sense that power comes out in the barrel of a gun and when the Japanese gun was not as big as the American gun they surrendered and the British came back. I was slowly coming to the conclusion that we should be governing ourselves. Anyway then I went off to England where I spent four years, where I saw the British govern themselves and I knew that they had a very sophisticated system, very tolerant society that was in 1946 1950 when I was there. But their interests were Britain and how the colonies help Britain be better off. So during those critical years we met amongst ourselves, the Singaporean and Malaysian students studying there and decided that we should really come back, form a group, grow into a party and struggle and fight for power.

LH: Would you say that contributed in shaping your character as a young man?

LKY: I would say absolutely. I was a product of the times, the war, the occupation, the reoccupation, my 4 years in Britain, admiring but at the same time questioning whether they are able to do a better job than we can.

LH: When you finished school at Cambridge you came back to your birthplace Singapore and started a law practice with your wife, how much of a partnership is your marriage?

LKY: Well, I think if I had married a different woman I would of had a very different life. She was my partner both emotionally and intellectually. At work and at play and she brought up the 3 children that we have, brought them up to be well behaved, modest and not over-bearing children. Because I took office when they were very small children. In 1959 my eldest boy only about 7 years old, the others were 5 and 3. My official residence was Istana where there were butlers and waiters galore. We decided to stay at home and not take the official residence which I used for entertainment purposes because we both believed that if they had so many waiters and helpers picking balls for them and doing things for them, it will give them an inflated and a false idea of what life will be like

LH: Theres another e-mail question, this one from Elaine, Kuala Lumpur. Shed like to ask you Whats the Senior Ministers secret for a success full marriage?

LKY: Well, first you must be temperamentally suited, and there must be constant adjustment and give and take. I mean no marriages are made in heaven. I think that I have been fortunate that the relationship has been an easy and a close one. Weve had our joys, weve had our sorrows and my son lost his wife, and she had to help look after the two grandchildren, one of them who was an albino and partly autistic or had As Berger syndrome, and therefore was difficult to handle as a child. So we have shared both joys and sorrows.

LH: Was it difficult to also deal with your sons ill health, of the news of his ill health at the time?

LKY: Well of-course it was a shock. I was at South Africa at the time in Johannesburg. We knew he was going in for a medical check for his Colon. They found polyps but they said it was benign but they wanted to do a biopsy. So when I received a call while I was talking at a conference of the financial review, or whatever the financial paper was having there for South Africa I sensed bad news, because he doesnt usually call unless..

LH: He called you himself?

LKY: Yes he called himself. He got on the phone and he said, bad news its lymphoma. The world just collapsed on us, that was October 1992. I remember it vividly; the rest of the journey was little ashen. American specialists confirmed that he had intermediate grade lymphoma. So at first I thought thats pretty serious, but it turned out that intermediate grade Lymphoma was a lot better to treat than low grade Lymphoma, because if it is intermediate it grows fairly fast and you can attack it. If it is low grade it grows so slowly that attacking it means killing a lot of your own cells. So that was when we had the first ray of sunshine. He came back and all the medications agreed and chemotherapy was done here. At the end of one year the specialist from Stanford came and I had a discussion with him, and he said it is most unlikely that it will flare up, if it doesnt after five years it should be ok.

LH: Has it?

LKY: Then we waited for the end of five years till the end of October 1997 and its all clear, so now is 2002.

LH: Good.


LH: Senior Minister Lee, you obviously had a vision of Singapore, many, many years ago and the Singapore we sit in right now is that vision any different or is it the same?

LKY: I could not have envisioned the Singapore that exists today. In 1965 decapitated town, not quite recovered from the ravages from war but just starting to rebuild it. At that time our main preoccupation was how to make a living because entry port trade, which had survived gave us a living. For a hundred plus years it was going to be replaced by all our neighbors trading direct. So I had no great visions of transformation. First job was get investments, get jobs and we had to get a manufacturing sector started because we needed jobs and manufacturing created jobs. After a while we stumbled on something which was much more effective. I spent two months of the October term in November/ December in 1968 I was taking a sabbatical, and our Economic Development Board had already been established nearly a year so they got me to meet Mr. Smith, I also spoke to the economic club of New York and so on. Then I met them and talked to them, then I discovered that they were looking for a safe place where they could manufacture the electronics and bring back to America. At that time there was a cultural revolution in China, Hong Kong was in turmoil so we became a desirable location, and because the first few succeeded well within months they were up and running and exporting so we got more and more investments. So by 1973, 5 years from 1968 we had solved our unemployment problem. I would say that Hong Kong was a useful guide to me; because it was small I knew it had to go up and we had to up. So we rebuilt Singapore, knocked down the old kampongs and shop houses, and went high. That was the only vision that I can say was early on an example of what we can do and which we have achieved.




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